Ambitious plans originally created by 17th century Dutch engineers could be revived to make Norfolk an island tourism destination.
In 1651, Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden built the first sluice at Denver as part of a scheme to drain the Fens but he also drew up an idea that would allow shipping to travel from the port of King’s Lynn all the way to Great Yarmouth without going through the dangerous Happisburgh Sands.
Vermuyden saw the potential of constructing a canal between the sources of the River Waveney and River Little Ouse which are just a few miles apart behind Thetford and creating a new waterway along the border of Norfolk making it separate from the rest of the country.
‘We wouldn’t want to claim ourselves as an independent republic, after all Norfolk is home to the Royal Family,’ said a spokesperson for Visit Norfolk. ‘And we’re not taking about issuing passports or having our own coins. Nonetheless, there’d be a thrill to saying to the kids, ‘We’re going to the island of Norfolk for our summer holidays’. After all, people go to islands in the Caribbean, Greece, the Balearics and Canaries. There’s a romanticism to it.’
Norfolk’s history is littered with examples of engineering fetes, not least the Norfolk Broads which were created by extracting more than 900 million cubic feet of peat… all by hand.
‘People like to think that the Broads are just inundated peat diggings, but in fact it was a very deliberate act by medieval monks to create an environment for pleasure boating – 125 miles of navigable, lock-free waterways,’ said local archaeologist Joe Kitas. ‘They were way ahead of their time and hugely ambitious. To put that into perspective there are just 30 miles of canals in Venice and 60 miles in Amsterdam.’
Mr Kitas added: ‘The plan to create a new channel that also makes Norfolk an island is in the same spirit. We know the government are very keen on big infrastructure projects and this might be right up their street… or river.’
Mr Kitas said that the idea has also been in the mind of Daniel Defoe: ‘When the author came to Norfolk in 1724 he was aware of Vermuyden’s project. Let’s not forget that a storm off the sea of Great Yarmouth is the beginning of Defoe’s book Robinson Crusoe and if that’s not about an island then I don’t know what is.’
The initiative is being given serious consideration by local authorities, with contemporary Dutch engineer Dr Afril Spool van Day thought to be leading a commissioning team.
‘This ambitious project will create a unique selling proposition for Norfolk’s tourism industry. Imagine how many more people will want to visit the island of Norfolk,’ said Dr Spool van Day.